Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Philippians 4:6
A phobia is an irrational fear or aversion to something. It is often used as a description of an anxiety disorder. An essay by a member of Gen Z, Taylor Brandt, suggests the term may apply to the next generation.
Things like safe spaces on campuses, trigger warnings, bias response teams were never part of campus life until the last 10 years. To this next generation, these phobias seem real, yet older generations are dismissive because we didn’t experience it. We even call them “snowflakes”.
A 2018 survey by the American College Health Association showed that 63 percent of college students reported feeling overwhelming anxiety over the previous year. Another 42 percent said they felt so depressed it was difficult to function over the previous year, and 12 percent seriously considered suicide.
How did this occur? Taylor Brandt searched for answers for his own issues. He read The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting up a Generation for Failure and found it helpful.
The books’ central thesis is that young people have been “immersed in a world characterized by paranoid concerns for safety”. It leads to a distortion of their thinking and damaged mental well-being. The next generation has had adversity removed from their lives, leading to unintended consequences.
The authors unpack “Three Great Untruths” which have negatively impacted the next generation. Each Untruth has three things in common: each contradicts ancient cultural wisdom as well as modern psychological research and does harm to those who embrace them.
The first Untruth is Fragility: “What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.” Instead, as Frederich Nietzche noted the truth is “that which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Just the opposite.
An example comes from biology and the development of the peanut allergy. It is attributed to parents and teachers in the 1990’s who started protecting children from peanuts even though the real incidence of allergy was only 4 out of 1,000 kids under 8. By 2015, the rate was nearly 32%.
Attempting to protect children from harm might actually cause more harm. What is true in biology extends to economic and political systems, according to Nassim Taleb, author of Antifragil.
The next Untruth: Emotional Reasoning. This is the triumph of emotional reasoning and decision making. Subjective feelings trump objective truth. Being in touch with your emotions is not always bad, but taken to an extreme, it leads to an overcorrection.
These connections to feelings has led younger people to think they are in constant danger (witness the embrace of climate change through a constant drum beat that the world will end in 12 years).
The last Untruth: Us Versus Them. Life is a battle between good people and evil people. This results in typecasting – you are either good or bad. Nothing in between. It has led to increased tribalism and “common enemy” and tribalism which humanizes people of different groups and sets them against one another.
Ironically, from a Christian worldview, we are all sinners after the fall in the Garden of Eden – broken sinful creatures who need God to save us from ourselves. We are given the opportunity of redemption through Jesus. We are actually a “common humanity”, not “common enemies.”
The authors of Coddling think the last Untruth is a “Marxist approaches to social and political analysis”. It creates tribalism and class warfare leading to socialism (or worse) A worldview that identify people as potential threats because of their perceived position of power is toxic. It may be one of the sources of Gen Z’s poor mental health.
The Untruths have resulted in Groupthink largely spawned by social media, something that didn’t exist in prior generations.
Tyler Brandt ends his article with a challenge to his generation: adopt a worldview which is more generous to other people, seeing them not as just good or bad but being more nuanced than a stark all or none approach.
Finally, Tim Elmore suggests that there is now a normalization of anxiety. Based on the data and studies cited above, he is on to something. We now have to approach the idea of phobias of the next generation, whether real or imagined, as something to be dealt with.
His suggestion is that we meet those with high anxiety with empathy. Telling them to “grow up” may be counterproductive until you have sympathized with them as a means of helping them withdraw from their emotional crises and bring them hope.
The challenge for parents and mentors alike is that we will need to be sensitive to the needs of the next generation in tackling their high levels of anxiety. The solution, of course, is a spiritual one.
Mentor Takeaway: Phobia or not, the next generation has a high level of anxiety. Being able to discuss real issues as opposed to perceived threats to their safety may be beneficial to a mentee’s life.
Further Reading: Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder – Taleb
WORSHIP: Listen to This We Know by Vertical Worship.
MentorLink: For more information about MentorLink, go to www.mentorlink.org.
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